September 20th. After weeks of agonizing, Vintage 2011 arrived healthy, sweet and pink as can be; a dainty 8 tons of potential intoxicating delight. It was a gorgeous morning, crisp, brilliant. I found the farmer in the choicest parcel aloft his giant blue harvester, gazing over the rows of fruit he’d tended all year.
Pierre, 19 year old son of our neighbor, Wilfrid (godfather to this venture) deftly curtsied the tractor and the first tons of berries poured in. A short haul through the fields of merlot, past the bull who was nursing a hoof, back to the chai.
Greetings from the crew and munching horses. Cheers to see the perfect grapes. Wilfrid immediately took a sample from the faucet in the wagon to test density and temperature (the sugar test for alcohol potential) and they charted it carefully, noting the parcel’s provenance. The La R 1 parcel with her porte greffe SO4 – which some modern technicians say is not correct for this soil – comes through best. She matured more quickly, was most resistant to illness, and such sweetness…
The chai became a hive of motion as they attached the huge red tube to feed the waiting tank and then the grapes suddenly spurted out and down into the errafloir – a very noisy contraption that gently removes the stems and leaves. Gently is the word since the skins and seeds are precious; we’ll be courting them in the coming weeks so they macerate and impart their flavor secrets. A moment of panic at the launch when we pushed the “on” lever backwards and the grapes came flying out in the wrong direction – quick! Stop! And I could hear the farmer thinking – “city slickers,” but no, he grabbed the valve and set us straight, helped us clean up the sticky mess, no harm done except to our pride. Fortunately, a rhythm set in: wagon arrives, density check, careful notes, feed the ravenous errafloir, keep red tube secure, monitor the slow and precise drip of SO2 like a patient on an intravenous (to kill bacteria; this is after all, a highly regulated food industry.)
The tasks continue, it’s merry work and we’re halfway there. But the team needs a little sugar so it’s time for that french tradition – le pause café.